Friday, Jul. 8, 2016
On June 8, a group of TC alumni met at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem for the last event of the A&H in the City series, capping off a successful first year for the initiative led by Bill Gaudelli, Associate Professor of Social Studies Education and Chair of the Arts & Humanities Department. The 3-hour event took attendees through multiple activities in the historic, recently renovated Schomburg Center.
The evening started with an interactive activity by Deirdre Lynn Hollman, Director of the Junior Scholars Program and Director of Education and Exhibitions at the Schomburg Center, around the cosmogram (a flat geometrical figure depicting a cosmology or origin theory, sometimes in map form) that represents Arturo Schomburg and Langston Hughes’ migrations to Harlem, where they both became key figures in the Harlem Renaissance. Dr. Hollman had volunteers read “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” and lead a call-and-response jazzy version of Hughes’ first important poem, on which the cosmogram is based.
Then Dr. Hollman and the group headed into the Langston Hughes Auditorium and showed a video commemorating Schomburg’s 90th anniversary in 2015. The Center is one of the world-class research centers within the New York Public Library system and has collected over ten million items covering the history and culture of the Pan-African diaspora.
Diving into the theme of the featured exhibit for the evening, Dr. Hollman asked the attendees to share personal migration/immigration stories with another attendee one-on-one before asking for volunteers to share with the whole group. Dominique Pender, an MA Teaching of Social Studies alum, found the exhibit “fascinating but frustrating” because it diverged from the textbook history he received in school. Two Brooklynites, one who moved from Greece and another from Haiti, shared that their parents moved to the U.S. striving for opportunity but now they themselves are having to move between boroughs trying to stay afloat with rising rents. One of the staff members told about how the first half of her migration story from China to Guam to Seattle was determined by her parents, but the second half from Seattle to Utah to Washington, D.C. to New York City was determined by her own choices.
Next, Dr. Hollman introduced the online exhibit “Immigration, Migration, and the Transformation of the African-American Community in the 20th and 21st Centuries” on a computer projector, which the attendees were introduced to through an abridged pop-up exhibit by the cosmogram. The Congressional Black Caucus funded the digitization of a huge collection of photographs, maps, cartoons, and texts alongside biographies and studies. The audience analyzed an illustration of a black man running away from a white man next to a lynched black man for unwritten messages underlying the image. Then two volunteers read the article “Black Bodies in Motion” in The New Yorker about Jacob Lawrence’s migration painting series, currently on loan to the Museum of Modern Art from Schomburg. Dr. Hollman ended this segment by asking participants to shout out one word reactions to the article, then showed pictures from the internet of modern Syrian refugees and likened them to Lawrence’s migration paintings to show that migrations continue to be a crucial part of our history and experience.
The group transitioned to the American Negro Theater for dinner and a discussion with three faculty members from Teachers College. Monique Lane, an Adjunct Professor in English Education and Minority Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME), appreciated that the exhibit broadened the scope of history and challenged the invisibility of black women and girls who played an integral role in migration and immigration. Ernest Morrell, Professor of English Education and Director of IUME, said it was Schomburg’s dream was to change the narrative blacks told to and about themselves. Further, he wanted the Schomburg to show they have agency, challenging silence and simplification of their history. Dr. Morrell believes there is power in the archives and community members need to contribute our own histories, not just use government documents; museums should be a place of reciprocal record sharing. Ansley Erickson, Assistant Professor of History and Education, studied the history of a high school in Harlem and found that schools bring migration stories together.
Those who spoke up in the discussion showed a great deal of concern about the historical and cultural education of youth. An alumna graduated from TC’s Dance Education program said she had to sneak in this curriculum before African American history was more widely incorporated into history education but she can now “teach it with gusto,” using dance as therapy for her students to express their anger. Dr. Morrell remarked that, at Schomburg, primary sources are emphasized, which allows both young and old people to be active producers and sharers of history, not just consumers. Several participants commented on the need felt by many parents to supplement their child’s school education because teachers are under so much pressure to teach to the test, and not to a more rounded curriculum. Thus many parents are turning to online and community resources such as Saturday schools to teach their kids their culture and history.
The evening ended in a buzz as attendees stayed to mingle, leaving with new ideas to think over and new connections in the Teachers College alumni network. Dr. Gaudelli stated that A&H in the City events will continue next year.
Linda Flores is the Academic Secretary in Music & Music Education while earning her M.A. in Mental Health Counseling at Teachers College. She has a B.A. in American Studies with a minor in Ballroom Dance from Brigham Young University. She also writes on 3 personal blogs.